Interview with Howard Tullman, President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy

Howard Tullman, co-founder of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, founder of over a dozen high-tech companies, adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and member of both Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel’s technology and innovation councils, will share with Chicago Council on Science and Technology members some of the tools, trends and technologies that will transform businesses in the coming year this Thursday, Sept. 20.

We visited Tullman at Tribeca Flashpoint, and he shared with us some of his wisdom on a variety of subjects in advance of the program. Following is an edited transcript.

Q: Last week, you made the case that the ongoing Chicago Public Schools teachers strike would help education entrepreneurs (Inc., “Why the Chicago Teachers’ Strike Will Help Education Entrepreneurs,”  The Perspiration Principles, Sept. 14, 2012), noting that children attending charter schools were all still in class, and that this presented a “unique opportunity to demonstrate that more and more effective out-of-class and self-directed (or computer-enhanced) learning opportunities are available to students of all ages.”

If a demand shift occurs, how do you see a system as large as Chicago’s adapting to changing needs or wants of parents and students?

A: I had 300 Chicago Public School teachers here for a conference recently. Solitary learning will take place at home, outside of a classroom. Inside the class, students will work in groups, problem solve together. Teachers will circulate around. Students can work at their own rate of progress.

The great thing is teachers can develop a video in 15 minutes, put it up at essentially no cost, and its available 24/7; it’s an aid that didn’t exist before, and frees up the teacher. There are a series of aides that exist that never existed before. Harvard, other schools are posting free content with really great professors.  A kid can go online, see a really great teacher, and understand something in a different way. It’s changing the way things are taught. [Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, let colleges reach vast audiences free or at relatively low cost, and have been offered to date at over a dozen prestigious organizations].

Chicago schools have to figure out how to move from the current model: it cannot be ‘I talk, you listen.’ It’s not the same learning, its differentiated learning. A significant portion of principals and teachers, time has passed them by. It’s the same in business, companies are dominated by IT departments who say, ‘leave your smartphones at the door.’ The kids know and understand the technology and we teach them not to use it. It’s very scary.

Q: You once said there were three things that separated entrepreneurial winners from losers: starting with what you have, avoiding perfection, and failing fast. ( Inc., “Great Entrepreneurs Do These 3 Things,” The Perspiration Principles, Aug. 29, 21012). Which of these three things do you see most often violated?

A: People don’t fail fast. Not small companies, but big companies. They aren’t faced with existential dilemmas. There is a department or division of a project, and they are just avoiding blame; ‘fess up. But they are indifferent. It’s the whole school of disruptive innovation, when the big company sees the train coming down the track—they are doing things that are just good enough, waiting until everything is perfect.

You need to launch; don’t try to guess. Go with the LVP, or least viable product. Get the market to tell you what they will like. Nobody has that much wisdom.

Q: What is your biggest learning experience?

A: At the school, it’s been that all the technology is not as valuable to employers as the people skills are.

Collaboration, teamwork, a great work ethic and passion is what matters most.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: The most frightening trend regarding technology and education is the personalization of everything. It’s great for marketers, and it seems nice when you log on somewhere and it knows your preferences. But education is discovery. When you walk into a bookstore, and you stumble onto a book about dinosaurs or whatever that you never would have found, it’s nice. But the more personal information you provide, the more the system feeds back what you already know—you never get outside of the box. Your search is no longer objective. It’s a very different world now. When you used to look something up at a library, you knew the sources were researched, and validated. Now, you don’t know the source. A five- or six- year old doesn’t know that he or she can’t trust that what they find is not objective.

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